Are our roadworks speed limits too low?

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A UK survey has found that most motorists believe roadworks speed limits are too low. It’s a bugbear of many drivers in Australia, but the difference in the law in the two countries is vast.

In a situation Australian drivers can only dream about, UK motorists are required to slow to 80km/h (50mph) when travelling through roadworks on motorways. In the majority of Australia, even where the speed limit is 100 or 110km/h, roadworks speed limits are mostly set at 40km/h or, in some states, 25km/h.

The UK survey of 1024 people found the majority (52.6 per cent) of motorists back a move by the UK Highways Agency to increase speed limits through motorway road works to 97km/h (60mph), according to a new poll by Motorpoint, the UK’s largest independent car retailer.

The Highways Agency recently conducted a series of trials on the M1, M4 and M6 motorways allowing cars to travel at 60mph through eight different sets of roadworks to measure journey times as well as safety levels. Under the new rules, speed limits will be classed as either ‘permanent’, which allows for driving at 60mph at all times, ‘contraflow’, which allows for driving at 60mph where construction activity isn’t taking place and ‘dynamic’, which lifts the limit from 50 to 60mph only on non-working days.

Mark Carpenter, chief executive officer of Motorpoint, said: “The results of our poll clearly echo the frustration of so many drivers over the years who have spent countless hours crawling through motorway roadworks in their cars.

“It’s refreshing to see the Highways Agency ‘challenging the norm’ as they say and recognising that increasing the speed limit through roadworks does help reduce journey times, especially at a time when we need to get Britain moving again, but doesn’t compromise people’s safety in the process.”

Similar changes to Australian rules could reduce frustration and travel times.

Even more tellingly, removing roadworks speed limits when work is not being carried out would also have a significant effect, but despite promises by various governments to fine operators who leave out peed limit signs, nothing has happened. We have been unable to find a single instance of an operator being fined, and as readers would be well aware, speed restrictions remain in place when there is absolutely no reason for them.

Previous attempts to raise roadworks speed limits (most recently in SA where the limit is 25km/h) have been vehemently opposed by unions and safety authorities.

Paul Murrell is a motoring writer and creator of, which specialises in “car advice for people whose age and IQ are both over 50”. This article first appeared on

Have you had occasion to drive through roadworks sections but found absolutely no activity and no-one in attendance? Have you seen roadworks signs left out on weekends? Would a system similar to that in the UK make more sense? 

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Written by wordsmith


Total Comments: 15
  1. 0

    Firstly I am a motorist that does plenty of highway kilometers a year. Yes, roadworks speed limits are frustrationg, but they are there for the safety of roadworkers AND the motorist. They are set at a fixed speed so everybody is used to that limit.
    You mention roadworks limits in force even though there are no roadworkers? Fair enough, that’s because they have stopped work (for lunch or for the day) and the roadworks are not completed, making the road unsafe at the normal limit (no guardrails, unsealed surface, sections that aren’t completed etc). And even though the partly completed road MAY be safe at above the 40kph limit, that’s the standard roadwork speed limit.
    The frustrating ones are when there’s a different subby who puts up the signs on one day, ready for the roadworks early the next day… Or the warning signs of raodworks when there clearly isn’t any. Or the best, warning signs of roadworks ahead, speed limit signs, no roadworks, and no “End of roadworks, Thank You” sign…

    • 0

      Well made points On the Ball but I would add another. When roadworks are to be carried out over a lengthy section, say 5km, on one lane of a dual lane highway but work is only being done on, say 400m lengths, at a time but the 40km/hr restriction is posted for the entire 5km.
      I support the protection of those working on the road and should the road surface be dodgy but too often the speed restriction signs are put up with no real consideration for the road user. I have often seen them up over long weekends when no one was working fro 3 days.

  2. 0

    They are too low. Reduce motorists from roads by filtering out the bad drivers that cause accidents.

    • 0

      100% TT.
      One thing, we shouldn’t use the term “accident” when refering to raod crashes.
      Very very rarely are they true accidents. Most often crashes are the result of someone’s stupidity!
      The term “accident” infers nothing could be done. “Couldn’t be helped. It was an accident”.
      Its a copout. Like we cant do anything about it.
      I notice the Police dont use the trem (well, they shouldn’t) usually refering to incidents, collisions, crashes, etc as appropriate. Similarly most news outlets are changing (some at my request!)

    • 0

      If you are going to start picking on nomenclature On the Ball, can you also ask that people stop stop saying things like “the car hit a telegraph pole”. The car did nothing! The driver lost control and are responsible!!

    • 0

      Accidents mean unintentional misdemeanors and infractions. No reckless and careless motorist commits them intentionally because they are stupid in the first place.

    • 0

      To KSS there are no telegraph poles anymore, there are power poles or sign posts or flag poles etc.
      The telegraph poles have not been used for ages. My dad took them all down years ago.

      Seriously I agree there are no accidents, the “Entitled Generation” all have excuses why they get booked, or cant drive, or someone else is at fault. Others are too drunk or drugged to know what happened.
      The story that the car lost control and crashed into something is all the fault of the driver.
      Cars don’t crash, drivers crash. End of story.

  3. 0

    Here in QLD speed limits at roadworks are a mess and even when no work is taking place the limits remain in place. On top of that speed limits at roadworks are too low leading to frustration and anger causing reckless behaviour as people snap and leads to accidents. I have noticed that it seems to be policy in QLD to stop the flow of traffic by ever increasing traffic lights where none are needed as well as stop signs where a give way sign is totally adequate. Overtaking opportunities are being continuously limited by turn off lanes being introduced on roads where hardly any traffic is turning. Are they trying to frustrate drivers to an extent to soften us up to accept a future of driverless cars???

    • 0

      And reducing speed limits on 4-lane country highways that have a zero collision rate. They did this in my home town, a major highway that has been swallowed up by progress. Its still the same highway. Still as safe as it ever was (4-lane freeway), but the speed limit was reduced from 100kph to 80 kph, without explanation nor reason. Now it suffers major traffic jams because now the “keep left unless overtaking” no longer applies. In my town, if the speed limit is 80 or less, you can drive in whatever lane you want. And the unwritten rule is that you travel 20% LESS than the posted speed limit.
      Oh, I wouldn’t be worried at the introduction of driverless cars. At least they will keep up to the speed limit!

  4. 0

    This one of the most frustrating issues when driving, along with Farmers leaving out “Stock on Road’ or “Stock Crossing” signs when there is no stock present, which is illegal!
    Creates complacency among drivers. The signs should be relevant and the speed limit appropriate to the conditions and safety.

    A former Chief Minister of the ACT (Katie Gallagher) gave, and carried out, an undertaking to ensure the Roadwork Speed limitation signs would be removed if no work was being performed and there was no Road Safety issue.

  5. 0

    Some years ago my Daughter was driving on a 100kph section of road and was fined for going through ‘roadworks’ at 48kph at 8pm on 25th December. She wrote to the relevant authority advising the nominal speed limit was 100kph, there were no actual roadworks, the signage had been erected by a developer who was trenching along the verge of the road, the trenching was fenced off, it was the evening of Christmas Day, there was no one actually working on the road and she had reduced speed to about 50kph. The result was effectively ‘too bad, don’t care, pay up’. She took it to her local MP who agreed it seemed unreasonable and, thanks to him, the fine was eventually withdrawn. I have often wondered how many other motorists were caught on the same day in the same trap?

    • 0

      Eddie, we were driving along the South Gippsland Hwy (Victoria) a few years ago and slowed at a roadwork advisory sign (40kph). More than 8 km later (and no end of roadwork sign) I sped up to the normal 100km speed limit. The only sign of work was in a fenced off paddock), where a Vic Roads truck was boring a hole.

  6. 0

    25 km/hr is ridiculously frustrating. 40 is illogical, equating to 25mph. 50 km/hr would be acceptable in most circumstances, but the main bone of contention is there shouldn’t be any reduced limit when nobody is working, especially on weekends, unless there is a dangerous chasm alongside.

  7. 0

    Road Work speed signs should only apply IF work is being carried out. I have seen speed signs out when there is NO work being done and sometimes for days on end. The speed limit should only apply if there is only one lane available to use. It two lanes are available then sure reduce the speed limit, for safety to 60 kph, not 40 or 25.

  8. 0

    1. The ‘roadworks speed limits’ are standardised and, as already stated: IMPORTANT for safely. They are already ignored by many, so increasing them would increase the danger.
    2. Drivers are booked. But road authorities that leave the limits up when not necessary are not – this is unfair and no stimulus on authorities to ‘get it right’..



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